|Mother Teresa of Calcutta|
The origin of the Mother Teresa of Calcutta myth can be traced back to a 1969 TV documentary and a 1971 book, both entitled Something Beautiful For God by Malcolm Muggeridge, a pseudo-intellectual convert to Catholicism. Muggeridge had started out as a left of centre satirist but had moved later in life to be a right wing fundamentalist moraliser who, as part of Mary Whitehouse's self-appointed cabal of Christian bigots, had tried to get banned, amongst many other things, The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour on the grounds that it contained the words "Pornographic priestess; boy, you've been a naughty girl, you let your knickers down".
As we said at the time, Muggeridge was all for a liberal attitude to sex - until he got too old for it himself.
Here's how Hitch saw it:
Muggeridge’s fatalistic revulsion from the actual Calcutta made him all the more receptive to Mother Teresa’s mystical prescription for the place, which is that it suffers from being too distant from Jesus. In consequence, his gullibility led him to write the following, which is worth quoting at length. (I should preface the quotation by saying that Muggeridge’s BBC crew included a very distinguished cameraman named Ken Macmillan, who had earned a great reputation for his work on Lord Clark’s art-history series Civilisation.)
This Home for the Dying is dimly lit by small windows high up in the walls, and Ken was adamant that filming was quite impossible there. We had only one small light with us, and to get the place adequately lighted in the time at our disposal was quite impossible. It was decided that, nonetheless, Ken should have a go, but by way of insurance he took, as well, some film in an outside courtyard where some of the inmates were sitting in the sun. In the processed film, the part taken inside was bathed in a particularly beautiful soft light, whereas the part taken outside was rather dim and confused. . . . I myself am absolutely convinced that the technically unaccountable light is, in fact, the Kindly Light [Cardinal] Newman refers to in his well-known exquisite hymn.
Nor was Muggeridge attempting to speak metaphorically. Of the love he observed in the home, he wrote that it was
luminous, like the haloes artists have seen and made visible round the heads of the saints. I find it not at all surprising that the luminosity should register on a photographic film. The supernatural is only an infinite projection of the natural, as the furthest horizon is an image of eternity. Jesus put mud on a blind man’s eyes and made him see.....
This is precisely what miracles are for — to reveal the inner reality of God’s outward creation. I am personally persuaded that Ken recorded the first authentic photographic miracle. [Emphasis added.]
Hitchens, Christopher (2012-04-01). The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice (Kindle Locations 408-427).
Atlantic Books. Kindle Edition.
Now contrast this to the reality as described by Ken Macmillan, who actually took the picture Muggeridge is referring to.
Muggeridge did not exaggerate when he wrote "I fear I talked and wrote about it to the point of tedium." So it is interesting to have the direct testimony of Ken Macmillan himself:
During Something Beautiful for God, there was an episode where we were taken to a building that Mother Teresa called the House of the Dying. Peter Chafer, the director, said, "Ah well, it’s very dark in here. Do you think we can get something?" And we had just taken delivery at the BBC of some new film made by Kodak, which we hadn’t had time to test before we left, so I said to Peter, "Well, we may as well have a go." So we shot it. And when we got back several weeks later, a month or two later, we are sitting in the rushes theater at Ealing Studios and eventually up came the shots of the House of the Dying. And it was surprising. You could see every detail. And I said, "That’s amazing. That’s extraordinary." And I was going to go on to say, you know, three cheers for Kodak. I didn’t get a chance to say that though, because Malcolm, sitting in the front row, spun round and said: "It’s divine light! It’s Mother Teresa. You’ll find that it’s divine light, old boy." And three or four days later I found I was being phoned by journalists from London newspapers who were saying things like: "We hear you’ve just come back from India with Malcolm Muggeridge and you were the witness of a miracle."
And a star was born. Ken Macmillan’s testimony came far, far too late to prevent the spread, largely by the televisual and mass-media methods that Muggeridge affected to despise, of the reported "miracle." Rather than "the first authentic photographic miracle," this episode is actually something considerably more significant. It is the first unarguable refutation of a claimed miracle to come not merely from another supposed witness to said miracle but from its actual real-time author. As such, it deserves to be more widely known than it is. But modern technology and communications have ensured instead that rumor and myth can be transmitted with ever greater speed and efficiency to the eyes and ears of the credulous.
Hitchens, Christopher (2012-04-01). The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice (Kindle Locations 429-446).
Atlantic Books. Kindle Edition.
Note particularly how:
- a 'fact' was eagerly seized upon: "It’s divine light! It’s Mother Teresa. You’ll find that it’s divine light, old boy."
- a spurious piece of pseudo-intellectual, pseudo-scientific gibberish was cobbled together to 'validate' it: "I find it not at all surprising that the luminosity should register on a photographic film. The supernatural is only an infinite projection of the natural, as the furthest horizon is an image of eternity." [my emphasis]
- and how an appeal to his own authority is quite sufficient; no further investigation being necessary: "I am personally persuaded...", "I myself am absolutely convinced that the technically unaccountable light is, in fact, the Kindly Light Newman refers to in his well-known exquisite hymn."
So a "miracle" was declared by fiat, a myth was created and a saint was born.
And all on the desperate wish for proof of his own intellectual prowess and to confirm his beliefs were right, the need to make money, and the arrogance of a man too conceited to question himself, who saw his role as moralising to the plebeian masses and handing down stories to help them understand the truth as he knew it to be.
The real facts of course were waved aside and ignored as irrelevant and unwanted.
If you think that was easy, how much easier must this deception have been in the days when people like Christopher Hitchins and Ken Macmillan would in all probability have been tortured and burned as heretics, had they been courageous enough to tell the truth.
[Footnote] For an excellent exposé of the fraudulent nature of the second 'miracle' attributed to Mother Teresa, see The Scandal of Mother Teresa's Sainthood which details the fabrication of the 'miraculous' cure from 'cancer' of Monica Besra, the systematic forgery of 'medical testaments' to the incurable nature of the 'cancer' (actually a tuberculous mass which responded as expected to standard medical treatment in Balurghat Hospital and the North Bengal Medical College and Hospital) by (non-existent) doctors by the Sisters of Charity in Calcutta, their destruction of medical records contradicting their claim, and the forgery of the hand-written testimony of the illiterate and non-English-speaking Monica Besra, in fluent English.
Also details the hush-money paid to Monica Besra and her family by the Catholic Church when they began to speak out about the hoax.